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Using drones to sell land and homes from the air

Monday, February 9, 2015 - 10:52
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Real estate agents across the country have become enthusiastic adopters of drone technology, using the lightweight, camera-equipped quadcopters to get creative with their marketing material.

[PHOENIX] Douglas Trudeau waited 177 days for the Federal Aviation Administration's permission to fly his US$1,300 drone.

The Tucson real estate agent wanted to do things the right way, he said, even though he knows peers who have ignored FAA rules prohibiting the use of drone photography and video for commercial purposes.

Last month, Mr Trudeau became the nation's first agent to receive an exemption under the FAA's rules, a move that will allow him to capture the sweeping mountain views and scenic vistas around his Tucson clients' homes, as long as he meets the agency's 33 restrictions, including having a licensed pilot operate the drone and applying for a certificate of authorization before every flight.

Real estate agents across the country have become enthusiastic adopters of drone technology, using the lightweight, camera-equipped quadcopters to get creative with their marketing material.

But in the Washington region, airspace restrictions and residential densities can limit such experimentation, even though local sellers are eager to use the technology.

Last summer, two District agents shot drone footage of Washington's Brookland neighborhood and posted it on their website.

The agents took down the video after a WAMU radio news story pointed out that it wasn't legal.

In an email, Shemaya Klar of the Abbott Klar Real Estate Group said although the firm hadn't used the footage since the summer, Trudeau's ability to receive an exemption made them hopeful that the work would not go to waste.

"We are convinced that there is a safe and beneficial role for drone video in real estate marketing and are hopeful that the FAA extend the permission they granted to Douglas Trudeau . . . to real estate agents nationwide," he said.

The National Association of Realtors agrees. The organization has been pushing Congress and the FAA to release a long-awaited set of regulations for the use of drones and is compiling a guide for members who want to follow Mr Trudeau's path.

Those who embrace the use of drones say it has the potential to add a buzz factor to an otherwise run-of-the-mill property. It's also cheaper than fixing a camera to a crane to capture aerial views of a home, which is how many agents get their shots.

The results can be eye catching.

"It's kind of like the difference between a car that's dull and a car that's been waxed," said Mike Roschke, a Realtor with Keller Williams based in Arlington, Virginia, who said he had not used drones.

An FAA spokesman said the agency hasn't served a single "educational letter" - its equivalent of a warning - to anyone in the Washington area for using the unmanned aircraft. But a casual Internet search of local agents' websites reveals smooth, panoramic views of homes that almost certainly came from drones.

To others in the industry, the appeal of drones is a passing fad, one of many in real estate.

"The housing in most parts of the Washington area is so close together that a drone shot will give you nothing more than rooftops," said Holly Worthington, a Long & Foster real estate agent and former president of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors.

Roman Caprano, who runs an Arlington real estate photography company named Sky Blue Media, said there is not enough demand to add the service, adding that the use of drone imagery appears most appropriate for large, luxury properties.

"Unless the property has a great lot or location or view, it's not really a positive," he said. "Most of the time, there could be eyesores - like power lines." There are also security concerns.

Soon after a drone crashed on White House grounds - apparently the result of an early-morning joyride by a government employee - Chinese manufacturer DJI said it would update its firmware so that the company's Phantom drones cannot fly over FAA-restricted areas in the Washington area.

Back in Arizona, Mr Trudeau said he was glad to be the first one to go through the legal route.

But he hasn't had a chance to fly his drone yet.

Just a few weeks after he received approval, the FAA sent Mr Trudeau a notice asking him to verify his drone's registration number, which might take weeks to complete.

WP